WikiLeaks is at it again:

WikiLeaks on Tuesday released thousands of documents that it said described sophisticated software tools used by the Central Intelligence Agency to break into smartphones, computers and even Internet-connected televisions....The initial release, which WikiLeaks said was only the first part of the document collection, included 7,818 web pages with 943 attachments, the group said. The entire archive of C.I.A. material consists of several hundred million lines of computer code, it said.

Hmmm. I'm beginning to think the only computer in Washington that hasn't been hacked is Hillary Clinton's private server. So where did this stuff come from?

WikiLeaks indicated that it obtained the files from a current or former CIA contractor, saying that “the archive appears to have been circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive.”

I gather that the tools in this archive are mostly bits of malware that can be inserted into smartphones and other devices. Once there, they can intercept communications before they're encrypted, and then relay the plaintext data back to the spies who put it there.

The stuff appears to be fairly recent, but I wonder how valuable it really is? Technology changes so fast that the life of a malware bug is probably measured in months these days. You find something you can insert into a Samsung TV in 2014, and by 2016 new models are out with different features and new code. Ditto for everything else. I'd certainly be interested in hearing more about this from folks with a working knowledge of how these kinds of hacks operate.

Sad news today: the United States has dropped to 7th in the US News rankings of the best countries in the world. Naturally, I blame Obama. Donald Trump has his work cut out for him, but taking away health insurance from millions should surely help get us back to the top.

How bad is the Republican health care bill? Nancy LeTourneau points me to Christopher Jacobs, who shares some scuttlebutt about the CBO score of a previous draft of the bill:

Based on my conversations with multiple sources close to the effort, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had indicated to congressional staff that the prior House framework could see at least 10 million, and potentially up to 20 million, individuals losing employer-sponsored health insurance.

Huh? Both Obamacare and the Republican bill are all about the individual market. Why would the Republican bill lead to massive declines in employer insurance?

According to CBO, the combination of a cap on the [tax] exclusion for employer-provided health insurance, coupled with an age-rated tax credit for insurance, created a dynamic where expanding health insurance coverage was all but impossible. An age-rated credit provides much greater incentive for firms to drop coverage, because all workers, not just low-income ones, can qualify for the credit.

As it happens, the cap on the tax exclusion was ditched in the version of the bill released today, but the age-based subsidies were retained. I'm going to try to recreate what this means. Here we go.

Suppose a health policy would cost you $10,000. Acme Corp. doesn't want the hassle of running a health care plan, so instead of buying a group plan they just give you $10,000 and tell you to go out and buy your own policy. The problem is that this $10,000 is taxable, so on net a middle-class taxpayer might take home only $7,000 or so. Then he'd have to shell out another $3,000 of his own money.

That's a bum deal, obviously. It's better for Acme to use that $10,000 to buy you insurance. It's the same deal for them, but since health care is nontaxable, it doesn't cost you anything. That's how things work today.

Obamacare doesn't change this much since middle-class taxpayers make too much money to get any subsidies. But now let's run this scenario under the Republican plan.

Unlike Obamacare, the GOP plan doesn't care how much money you make. A middle-aged, middle-class worker is eligible for a $3,000 tax credit no matter what. So now Acme can give you $10,000, you take home $7,000, and then receive a $3,000 tax credit. That's enough for you to buy a policy without shelling out any of your own money. Under those circumstances, Acme might well decide to get out of the health care business and just give people extra money they can use to buy their own coverage.

Obviously the Republican plan would affect different people differently, and not everyone would make out so well. On average, though, the Republican plan would make it more likely that an employer could just get out of the group health business altogether and not face a riot from their employees.

At the same time, poor people who don't have employer health care in the first place would be screwed. A $3,000 tax credit wouldn't come close to paying for an individual policy. They'd be thousands of dollars short and would simply go without, as they did before Obamacare.

The net result is that (a) lots of people would get dropped from employer health care, and (b) anybody who's less than middle class wouldn't be able to afford insurance using the tiny Republican tax credit, so they'd drop out of the insurance market altogether. After running the numbers, the CBO apparently figured that virtually no one who makes less than an average income would be able to afford insurance, while those above an average income would mostly be people who were just getting moved from employer coverage to individual coverage. The net result is that the Republican plan wouldn't do any more good than no plan at all.

On the bright side, all of this means that the Republican plan wouldn't cost much. Poor people wouldn't use the tax credits at all, so they wouldn't cost anything. Middle class folks who lost their employer plan would use the tax credits, but that would be made up for by taxes on the money their employer gives them to buy an individual policy. All that's left is the high-risk pool and Medicaid—and Republicans plan to gradually cut back on Medicaid.

So I might have been wrong this afternoon. The Republican plan might cost little more than $10-15 billion per year, and on net it might cover no one at all. We'll find out when the CBO announces its score.

A reader emails to tell me something about the new Republican health care bill. Out of its 66 pages, a full tenth of them are devoted to...

...a new rule allowing states to deny Medicaid coverage to lottery winners.

Seriously. That's a tenth of the bill. This is part of the insane conservative preoccupation with making sure that no undeserving person ever gets away with anything. That's why they'll spend six solid pages on something that will probably affect about 0.01 percent of all Medicaid recipients. It's too bad they don't pay equal attention to all the deserving people their bill will hurt.

Republicans have finally released their shiny new health care plan. It's pretty much the same as the discussion draft that leaked a couple of weeks ago, and includes the following basic features:

  • Subsidies (in the form of advanceable tax credits) are age-based, starting at $2,000 for young people and going up to $4,000 for older folks.
  • The subsidies begin to phase out above incomes of $75,000 ($150,000 for households). This will affect about 10 percent of the population and probably reduces the cost of the bill by about 5 percent at most (since most people at that income level already have insurance through their employer).
  • Obamacare's Medicaid expansion is frozen in 2020 and then gradually phased out.
  • The bill allocates about $10 billion per year for high-risk pools run by states. This is far too little to work effectively.
  • The tax meant to pay for everything was removed.
  • Insurers are required to cover everyone who applies, even if they have pre-existing conditions. However, if you have a coverage gap longer than two months, insurers can impose a premium surcharge of 30 percent for one year. This "continuous coverage" provision is designed to motivate people to buy insurance, since the bill repeals the individual mandate. However, this is very weak motivation and won't persuade very many young, healthy people to get covered.
  • The funding formula for Medicaid is changed to a "per-capita allotment," which is a fancy way of saying it gets cut.
  • All the Obamacare taxes on the rich are repealed.

Oh, and the bill includes a one-year ban on funding for Planned Parenthood. Conservatives love this, but it's also likely to generate some sure no votes in the Senate. Remember that Republicans can only afford two defections in the Senate. Any more than that and their bill fails.

Needless to say, there's not yet an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office about how much the GOP plan will cost or how many people it will cover. It's safe to say that on the cost side, it will be a lot cheaper than Obamacare. In fact, since the tax credits are so stingy, it's likely that very few people in the bottom third of the income spectrum will use them. They leave insurance too expensive for most poor people to afford.

Because of this, my horseback guess is that the Republican plan will be used by about 3 million people, compared to 10 million for Obamacare. The Medicaid expansion will be unchanged for a while, continuing to cover about 10 million people. Total cost for subsidies + high-risk pools + Medicaid expansion will run about $25 billion per year, compared to $100 billion for Obamacare.

Three million is far too small a pool for any kind of successful program, and the pre-existing conditions clause ensures that the pool will be not just small, but very, very heavily weighted toward the very sick. It's a disaster for insurance companies, who will almost surely refuse to participate.

That's my guess, anyway. It's a bloodbath. More detailed analysis from think tankers will be available soon, and the CBO will weigh in eventually too. It's not going to be pretty.

The New York Times reports that the Koch brothers are about to unleash the hounds. They. Have. Had. Enough:

Saying their patience is at an end, conservative activist groups backed by the billionaire Koch brothers and other powerful interests on the right are mobilizing to pressure Republicans to fulfill their promise to swiftly repeal the Affordable Care Act.

....The sudden caution of the Republican Party leadership, as it grapples with the enormously complicated challenge of replacing the Affordable Care Act, has baffled conservatives who have been fighting the health law for years. In the House, Republicans have voted dozens of times to dismantle the law, and it has been a primary issue in congressional races since 2010. Repealing the law, many conservative lawmakers believe, is the one clear mandate they have from voters.

....The repeal effort by the conservative groups is intended to sway members of Congress who may be hesitating because of public pressure back home. That pressure, conservatives said, is no reason to renege.

Talk about clueless. Sure, constituent pressure is having an effect, but it's nowhere near the biggest issue here. The biggest issue is that after voting to dismantle Obamacare dozens of times when they knew it was just a symbolic protest vote, Republicans suddenly have to think about what will happen if they dismantle it in real life. Answer: they now have to admit that they can't dismantle the whole thing. They never fessed up to that before, so it's no wonder the base is confused, but the House and Senate leadership have always known it. They can only dismantle the parts related to the budget because Democrats can filibuster the rest. And if Republicans dismantle only half the law, it will probably destroy the individual insurance market.

Oops. That would be bad, even by Republican standards. Plus there's the fact that millions of people would lose coverage, which is bad by centrist voter standards, even if Republicans don't really care about it. In other words, the GOP leadership is finally having to face up to the fact that repealing and replacing Obamacare is a tough nut to crack. Centrists will abandon them if they cause chaos, but hardliners will abandon them if they spend too much money. That's why they've agreed to modify their current plan to exclude subsidies for the well-off:

The concession on tax credits is a middle ground between what conservatives were demanding and what leadership wanted. Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and RSC Chairman Mark Walker (R-N.C.) in recent weeks came out against the GOP plan to replace Obamacare tax subsides with advanceable health care tax credits.

They preferred a tax deduction that would not allow those who don’t pay taxes to receive a check in the mail, calling such “advanceable” credits a “new entitlement.” At the crux of their concerns is the price tag, which they worry would increase the deficit.

A tax deduction, of course, would be useless to the poor and working poor, the very people who need help the most. But the Freedom Caucus doesn't care about that. Luckily for them, their leadership understands just what a political disaster that would be.

In any case, the Freedom Caucus is right about one thing: advanceable tax credits are a new entitlement. Or, more accurately, a continuation of an old entitlement. There's really not much difference between Obamacare's subsidies, which are paid directly to insurance companies, and Ryancare's tax credits, which are paid to the taxpayer, who then pays the insurance company.

As for the deficit, well, Ryan's plan will only increase the deficit if Republicans also repeal all of Obamacare's taxes and then decline to pass any new ones. Which they will. So that's a legitimate complaint too.

As usual, it all comes down to money. That's really the only thing that matters.

This post is longish and doesn't really have much payoff at the end. It's just something that turned into a bit of snark hunt, so I figured I'd document it. You have been warned.

It starts with a column by Mona Chalabi, the Guardian's "data editor," which claims to outline her research on the question of whether illegal immigrants commit more crimes than native-born Americans. It's faintly ridiculous and I'm a little annoyed by it, but then I come to this:

I find a study by Bianca E Bersani. I look her up — she’s a associate professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Using numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, her study finds that about 17% of all first-generation immigrants who are age 16 have committed a crime in the past 12 months....But wait. Is that number high or low? I decide to find out how often native-born people in the US commit crimes. Luckily, her study has that too. It’s higher: about 25% of all native-born people in the US who are 16 have committed a crime in the past 12 months.

That seems kind of high, doesn't it? Then again, "committed a crime" could encompass things like smoking a joint or stealing a box of paper clips from school, so who knows? The data comes from a paper called "A Game of Catch-Up? The Offending Experience of Second-Generation Immigrants," so I check it out. But there's nothing there. The paper has nothing whatsoever to say about either 16-year-olds or first-generation immigrants. What's going on? Here's the chart Chalabi presents:

This is a little odd. It suggests that 25 percent of 16-year-olds have committed a crime in the past year, but only 20% of 17-year-olds. That doesn't jibe with what I know about crime rates. And the source is Pew Research. So let's go look at the Pew article. It's a lengthy description of Bersani's article, and it includes this chart:

This is odd again. It's the same chart, all right, and the author spends a lot of time describing "A Game of Catch-Up?" But as I mentioned above, that article contains nothing like this at all. What's more, it appeared in Crime and Delinquency, but the chart is sourced to Justice Quarterly.

So now it's off to Justice Quarterly. It turns out that everyone is describing the wrong article. I wonder if any of them actually read it? The correct article is "An Examination of First and Second Generation Immigrant Offending Trajectories," also by Bianca Bersani. Fine. What does that article say? Here is Bersani's chart, colorized for your viewing enjoyment:

It appears that everyone has been copying the chart properly. For what it's worth, though, I'd make a few comments:

  • This data is for all immigrants. Donald Trump's focus is solely on illegal immigrant crime.
  • Bersani's data is from 1997-2005. That's pretty old. Crime and arrest rates of juveniles have gone down more than 50 percent since then, and the population of illegal immigrants has gone up more than 50 percent since then. I don't know if that changes the relative values in this chart, but it would certainly change the absolute values.
  • The data comes from the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which uses a very large oversample of Hispanic and black youth. Bersani appears to be using the full sample, and since Hispanic and black adolescents commit crimes at higher rates than whites, it means the numbers for native-born Americans are exaggerated. At a guess, the real figures are 2-3 percentage points lower.
  • The NLSY97 data includes six types of crime that were included in Bersani's study: (1) damaging property, (2 and 3) stealing less or more than $50, (4) other property crimes, (5) assault/serious fighting, and (6) selling drugs. By far the biggest contributors were property damage and petty theft, with fighting in third place and the others far behind. Auto theft and using a gun to steal (not included in Bersani's study) were minuscule:
  • Since the vast majority of the crimes in this study are minor—and we can assume that serious violent crime is even less prevalent—it's not clear how much this tells us. I don't think anyone cares much whether immigrant teenagers steal six packs of beer at a greater rate than native-born Americans. We mainly care about more serious violent crimes: robbery, rape, murder, and aggravated assault. Those aren't addressed at all.

I'd add that Bersani didn't just add up all the crimes committed by various groups. Her methodology is pretty impenetrable to anyone who's not an expert:

I use group-based trajectory modeling...identifies clusters of individuals who display similar behavioral trajectories over a period of time...Nagin and Land’s (1993) semiparametric group-based modeling approach...estimated using a zero-inflated Poisson form of a group-based trajectory model:

where ln(kjit) is the natural logarithm of the number of total crimes for persons i in group j at each age t. The equation specified above follows a quadratic function of age (age and age2)....

I have no idea what this means or whether it's appropriate, but I'm a little skeptical about a model that suggests that 17- and 18-year-olds commit crimes at lower rates than 16-year-olds. Most crime data I've seen shows the opposite. Then again, most crime data doesn't include extremely minor crimes like shoplifting and property destruction. It's possible that adolescents age out of that stuff pretty early.

Long story short, I wouldn't draw too many conclusions from this study. The data is old; it's not limited to illegal immigrants; it looks only at adolescents; the crimes under consideration are pretty minor; and the methodology is probably OK, but who knows? Put it all together, and I'd say it doesn't tell us too much one way or the other about the serious crime rate of illegal immigrants as a whole.

I have yet to see a study that persuasively suggests a higher crime rate for immigrants than for anyone else. Let's face it: if there's anything we native-born Americans excel at, it's crime. That said, the Guardian's data editor should have known better. There are tons of studies out there that try to estimate the relative crime rates of native-born Americans compared to undocumented immigrants, and cherry picking this particular one makes no sense. It does provide a rough data point suggesting that crime rates of immigrants aren't any different from the rest of the population, but it's nowhere near the best study out there. Citing this one and calling it a day is a real disservice.

According to the 2012 and 2016 exit polls, Hillary Clinton did six points worse than Barack Obama among Latinos, receiving only 66 percent of the Latino vote. Donald Trump did one point better than Romney, receiving 28 percent of the Latino vote. Ever since, a group called Latino Decisions has been insisting that the exit polls are all wrong, and Clinton actually received a much larger percentage of the Latino vote. Today they highlighted a new study in the Nevada Independent that examines voting by precinct and then compares the results to 2012. Here's what it looks like for Nevada:

The authors say that Trump seems to have gotten about the same vote share as Romney: "It is therefore extremely unlikely that more than one in four (28 percent) Latinos in Nevada turned out for Trump, as purported by the exit poll. Instead, it is likely that Clinton won just under 9 out of 10 Latino voters, leaving 1 in 10 to Trump."

There are all sorts of criticisms to make of this approach, the biggest of which is that the authors' own chart suggests that Clinton got fewer Latino votes in Nevada than Obama. If Obama got 71 percent in Nevada, that sure doesn't gibe with Clinton getting 88 percent. But let's put that aside. I have a different question. First, though, let's leave Nevada and take a look at the national vote. Here's a reminder of what the exit polls look like for 2012 and 2016:

Trump received 46 percent of the popular vote in 2016 compared to 47 percent for Romney in 2012. That's a loss of one percentage point. However, the exit poll for the white vote is based on a large, widely distributed sample, so it's pretty reliable—and it shows that Trump lost two points of the white vote compared to Romney. This means that Trump must have gained roughly one point among all the other groups in order to come out only one point behind in the overall vote.

So if Trump gained one point among the non-white vote, the only way he could have done substantially worse than 28 percent among Latinos is if he did substantially better among blacks and Asians. It's the only way the arithmetic works. How likely is that?

This is why I think the exit polls are probably right about the Latino vote. If they're off by a lot, you have to come up with a plausible recount of all the other racial groups that adds up to the right total number. I don't see how you can do that.

Just for the record: what do I think about all the ties between Russia and the Trump team, anyway?

Answer: I don't know. It seems pretty clear that Russia hacked email accounts and otherwise interfered with the election in order to help Trump. It's also true that Trump is unaccountably friendly toward Vladimir Putin. And it's further true that a surprising number of people in Trump's orbit have business in Russia or periodic contacts with highly-placed officials in Russia.

That's all reason for suspicion. But it probably wouldn't convince me that anything truly nefarious was going on except for one thing: the Trumpies have gone to such considerable lengths to hide their contacts with Russian officials.

This could just be reflex: being a Russian stooge is a bad thing, so one's default position should always be to deny any dealings with Russia. Or it could be that many of the contacts are embarrassing for reasons unrelated to the campaign. There are other plausible explanations too.

But this is why every new revelation gets such attention. I'm pretty open to the idea that Jeff Sessions didn't mean to mislead anyone when he told the Senate he hadn't met with any Russian officials. He might well have been thinking of Russians in Russia, not with the ambassador in Washington DC. But if that's the case, then why the obviously fishy excuse that he "can't recall" what they talked about? Why did Mike Flynn "not recall" what his conversations were about? In general, why the extended cover-up of everything related to Trump aides talking with Russians?

In this case, it's not that the cover-up is worse than the crime. It's the fact that the cover-up suggests there might be a crime being covered up. Without that, this whole story might have gone nowhere.

One of the most infamous sections of Steve Bannon's Breitbart News was "Black Crime." It was exactly what it sounds like. Then Bannon went to Washington DC to work for the president, who promptly announced a program to highlight victims of immigrant crime. Today, we get this:

The racial demagoguery from the Trump administration just keeps coming and coming. Granted, racial demagoguery is as American as apple pie, but have we had a president in recent memory who was happy to be so blatant about it? It's hard to put into words how disgusting this is.